Hearing a bad homily would be preferable to disciplining a defiant child during Mass and I think this was a great homily. But alas, it was not to be. As I struggled with the frustration I considered what to offer the suffering up for and the salvation of my children came to mind.
The Mass and the Four Most Important Lessons of Childhood
One of the questions of the old Baltimore Catechism is, "What are the purposes for which the Mass is offered?" The answer given was fourfold:Not being a product of the Baltimore Catechism, I had never heard this before.* First, to adore God as our Creator and Lord.Adoration, thanksgiving, petition, and satisfaction—mention of these four ends found their way into many an old missal and are still a familiar feature of any traditional catechesis on the Mass. What is often overlooked, however, is the relation of these ends to our own concrete lives as human beings. How exactly do these four things relate to our psychological, emotional, and spiritual welfare?
* Second, to thank God for His many favors.
* Third, to ask God to bestow His blessings on all men.
* Fourth, to satisfy the justice of God for the sins committed against Him.
One way to approach this question is to consider the four most important things that we learn to say as children: "I love you," "Thank you," "Please," and "I’m sorry." These four simple sayings are not only capable of directing both young and old onto the path toward human happiness; they also provide a useful analogy for what happens at every Sacrifice of the Mass.
Behind these simple expressions, then, lies a sound moral anthropology, a broad outline of the good life. Ideally speaking, a person who is capable of saying "I love you" and meaning it is capable of commitment, devotion, and self-sacrifice. A person who is capable of saying "thank you" and meaning it recognizes, as we will see, the unmerited gift of his existence and his debt to a broader world he did not create.Perhaps that is why those words are so often the most difficult to say. Especially when saying them our children.
A person who is capable of saying "please" and meaning it confesses his dependence on a reality outside himself and rejects the principle that might makes right, transcending the debilitating egoism that would leave him, to paraphrase Sir Walter Scott, a vile wretch concentered all in self. And finally, a person who is capable of saying "I’m sorry" (or for more minor offenses, "excuse me") and meaning it makes the difficult but crucial breakthrough into unflattering and unglossed self-knowledge, mustering the courage to acknowledge his faults and the resolve to redress them.
Our comparison between the four ends of the Mass and the four great things we learn as children also gives one final insight into the importance of the Eucharistic sacrifice. To think of Mass "attendance" as a legalistic burden imposed on us by the Church is as impoverishing as thinking of manners as mere extensions of parental power and caprice. Though by no means sufficient, manners are nevertheless instrumental in orienting us to the created order, and when they are appropriated properly, they help actuate our full potential as human beings. Similarly, the adoration, thanksgiving, petitions, and satisfaction we make at Mass orient us to the Creator of our nature, actuating not simply our native potential, but our capacity to participate in the very Godhead itself.
To be able to say "I’m sorry," "I love you," "please," and "thank you" to our Heavenly Father through the mediation of His Son and under the guidance of His Spirit is not only a unique privilege for a lowly creature; it is a steadily transformative act. And to that we can only say, Deo gratias.